Benedict XVI in the United Kingdom : Ecumenism and interreligious dialogue
During his four-day visit to the United Kingdom (September 16-19), the statements made by Benedict XVI dealt more particularly with four topics: 1) the pedophile priest scandal; 2) the role of Catholics in a strongly secularized society—with a reminder about the mission of the bishops; 3) ecumenical dialogue with the Anglicans, and 4) the example given by Cardinal John Henry Newman, whom he was anxious to beatify personally.
3. Ecumenism and interreligious dialogue
On September 17, during a meeting with representatives of two religions—one Jewish, the other Muslim—at St. Mary’s University in Twickenham, Benedict XVI called for “reciprocity” between religions that will guarantee that every believer has the opportunity to practice his faith in complete “freedom” and to convert. The pope furthermore assured them of the Catholic Church’s commitment to “heal past wrongs” in her relations with other religions.
The pope emphasized particularly “the importance of dialogue and cooperation with the followers of other religions”, especially “at a time when religious convictions are not always understood or appreciated”. “In order to be fruitful,” the pope continued, “this [dialogue] requires reciprocity on the part of all partners in dialogue and the followers of other religions.” He then noted that he was thinking “of situations in some parts of the world, where cooperation and dialogue between religions calls for mutual respect, the freedom to practise one’s religion and to engage in acts of public worship, and the freedom to follow one’s conscience without suffering ostracism or persecution, even after conversion from one religion to another.” This last allusion refers in particular to Islamic countries, where someone who attempts conversion is liable to serious punishments extending even to the death penalty.
In conclusion, Benedict XVI assured the representatives that “Catholics, both in Britain and throughout the world, will continue to work to build bridges of friendship to other religions, to heal past wrongs and to foster trust between individuals and communities.”
On the same day, September 17, on a visit to the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, the Pope maintained that “economic cooperation” was “essential” and would “certainly [bear] fruits in favor of peace and harmony in a world which so often seems on the verge of explosion”. He also deplored the fact that “the pervading culture strays ever farther from its Christian roots, in spite of a profound hunger for spiritual nourishment felt by many”. Benedict XVI then revealed that “the multicultural dimension, which does not cease to accentuate itself”, provided “an occasion to encounter other religions”. This reality should lead Christians to “explore, with members of other religious traditions, the means of bearing witness to the transcendent dimension of the human person and to the universal call to sanctity”, and of inciting others to “the practice of virtues in personal and social life”.
Even if “the Church is called to be comprehensive”, then maintained the Pope, she should “never” be so “to the detriment of Christian truth”. “Hence the dilemma that confronts all those who are authentically engaged upon the road of ecumenism”. And he recalled the “difficulties” that this latter “has encountered and continues to experience”. – For more on this “dilemma of ecumenism”, see our commentary
The Pope preferred however to congratulate himself upon the “remarkable progress” accomplished between the Anglicans and the Catholics. In the presence of Rowan Williams, the Pope also evoked the figure of John Henry Newman (1801 – 1890), an Anglican convert to Catholicism, maintaining that he had practiced the “virtues required by ecumenism”. At the end of this meeting, before greeting the Archbishop of Canterbury’s family – his wife and their two children – , the Pope and the Anglican prelate recite together the Our Father.
During an ecumenical celebration at Westminster Abbey, the center for Anglicanism in the heart of the city of London, on the evening of September 17, Benedict XVI exhorted all Christians to try to “remedy the separations of the past” and to “confront the present challenges”. He hoped that they might take up the challenge of proclaiming with a renewed conviction the reality of [their] reconciliation”.
In the presence of the highest Anglican authorities and representatives of other Christian confessions, Benedict XVI also claimed to have come “as a pilgrim from Rome to implore (…) the gift of the unity of Christians”. Not far from the sepulcher of Edward the Confessor (1004 – 1066), who is venerated by Catholics and by Anglicans, the Pope called out to all Christians: “Here, we are forcefully reminded that what we share (…) is greater that what continues to divide us”. “Dear friends”, affirmed the Pope yet again, “we have in memory challenges, blessings, let-downs and signs of hope that have marked our ecumenical way”. And he encouraged the faithful of all Christian confessions to “recognize the challenges (…) to be confronted” and to redouble their “efforts to remedy the separations of the past and to confront the present challenges”.
In his discourse, the Pope also spoke of the transmission of the Word of God and, particularly, of “the need for a creative openness to new developments and to what is required for a solid implantation of the Gospel into modern language and culture”.
However, warned Benedict XVI, Christians must practice an “obedience that should be freed from all intellectual conformism or easy adaptation to the spirit of the world”.
Upon his arrival, Benedict XVI had been greeted by Jane Hedges, canoness of Westminster Abbey and a fervent militant for the consecration of female bishops in the Anglican Communion. All around the abbey, several hundred people had awaited the Pope’s passage. There were some groups opposing the sovereign pontiff, the first ranks being associations of victims of pedophile priests chanting “shame on you”, as well as Evangelical Protestants greeting the Pope to boo’s. The pilgrims who had come to acclaim Benedict XVI had some trouble making themselves heard and had to fight to hide with their supporting banners the aggressive signs against Benedict XVI, labeled the Antichrist.
(Sources: Apic/Imedia/VIS/Zenit/Osservatore Romano/Figaro/La Croix – DICI # 222, October 2, 2010)
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